Part Two: Therapy for Anxiety

March 15, 2023

In Part One: Therapy for Anxiety, we mention that some anxious feelings are normal and a healthy part of life. But when anxiety severely impairs a person’s ability to function at work, school, and in social situations, seeking help and support is imperative to an improved state of well-being.

If you’re considering therapy for anxiety, here is some additional insight from our team members on their approach to providing therapy for clients who suffer from anxiety.

Grace Lozano, Resident in Counseling

When I think of treating anxiety, I imagine walking on a tightrope. (And not because I think that inducing my own anxiety is the best way to get in the zone to help others manage their own anxiety!) The reason I view treating anxiety this way is that it really can be a balancing act. On the one hand, we don’t want to push someone to experience so much anxiety that they become flooded and shut down. And, on the other hand, avoidance of things that make us anxious only serves to heighten anxiety in the long run because we are essentially teaching ourselves that the only way to feel safe is to avoid hard things. The goal is to strengthen our resilience through gradual exposure to the things that send those alarm bells blaring in our brains. But not so fast and furious to the point we shut down.

Finding the Balance

Eli Lebowitz, the Director of the Program for Anxiety Disorders at the Yale Child Study Center, recommends an approach for parents to support their kids through anxious moments that incorporates exactly this balancing act. Lebowitz poses that Acceptance + Confidence = Support. He goes on to describe Acceptance as “respond[ing] to your child’s anxiety in any way that tells him you get it, that you understand he is actually anxious, and you don’t judge him or it” and Confidence as “show[ing] him you have complete confidence that he is actually able to cope with some anxiety, and that you know he can feel OK despite feeling anxious.”

Say your child is scared of the doctor and has a history of skipping doctors’ appointments. Unsupportive responses could be: “That’s fine – we can just stay home,” or “You’re going to have to learn how to handle this! Get in the car!” A Supportive response could be: “I get that it’s really hard, and I STILL know from the bottom of my heart that you can make it through this doctor’s appointment.”

I wonder how you can incorporate this language into your household!

Wedad Omer, Resident in Counseling 

A fun fact about therapy for anxiety is that it doesn’t always have to involve talking! While traditional talk therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is effective for many people with anxiety, there are also alternative therapies that can be helpful. For example, art therapy, music therapy, and even virtual reality therapy have been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms for some people. These alternative therapies can be a fun and creative way to explore emotions and learn new coping skills. 

Here are some of the different alternative therapies that can be used to help reduce anxiety:

  • Art Therapy: Art therapy incorporates creative methods of expression through visual art media in order to enhance a person’s well-being. Art therapy may help us have a better view of our inner conflicts and emotions, and help us understand what has to be done to deal with them. It is performed under the guidance and direction of an art therapist, a person who is trained both in therapy and in the arts.
  • Music therapy: Music therapy involves listening to or creating music to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. It can be especially effective for individuals who have difficulty expressing themselves verbally.
  • Dance/movement therapy: Dance/movement therapy involves using movement and dance to promote self-awareness and reduce anxiety. It can help individuals to express emotions non-verbally and release tension.

Katie Thompson, Supervisee in Clinical Social Work

I’ve never been able to figure out if the universality of anxiety gives me comfort or not. In some ways, it’s great to know we aren’t alone in feeling anxious. But at the same time, acknowledging that each of us feels this way at some point is nothing short of sobering. However, about a year or so ago, I listened to Glennon Doyle’s podcast titled: “ANXIETY: Is it just love holding its breath?” which reshaped how I thought about anxiety, as it pulled love into the conversation.

I started to consider, maybe what we all have in common, is not as much worry as it is love.

For example, we worry something bad will happen to people we love because we LOVE them. We worry we won’t be a good parent, partner, child, or community member because we LOVE those relationships, and want to serve them well. We worry for our futures because, in a way, we’re grieving the LOVE we feel for the present or past.

It seems that many of the things we as humans worry about are tied to the love we feel for ourselves, our relationships, and our world. It’s a beautiful thing to love something so much you want to protect it at all costs. And while healing our anxiety is extremely important, I do not believe we are able to do so without compassion for our worries. All we’re trying to do is love, and love is a very good thing.

Cleo Chalk, Resident in Counseling

Life is full of anxiety-provoking things. They can be as small as the weather, or if your outfit goes together. I like to think of anxiety as being both good and bad. For example, on one hand, anxiety may keep you on task, push you to be productive, or motivate you to get something done. On the other hand, it can flood your thoughts, make you uncomfortable, or even force you to overthink something that you do not have much control over.

The ultimate goal when working with someone dealing with anxiety is to help them distinguish between the two. This gives the client more control over which thoughts they let get comfortable in their minds. The biggest skill that I teach is “Checking the Facts.” Oftentimes, we have anxiety simply because we did not check the facts. So what does this mean? It means that for every thought we have about a place, a thing, or a concept we have to check whether it’s justified. For example, if my friend comes into a room looking angry, I can assume he is angry because of me. Or I can check the facts by asking myself, “What did I do that could have possibly made him angry?” and “Could there be other reasons why he is angry?” and “Could there be other reasons why he is angry that have nothing to do with me?” I can even ask him directly about what made him upset. This allows me to avoid internalizing his negative behavior which may actually have nothing to do with me.

Growth and recognition is the ultimate goal! If we can pinpoint our irrational beliefs we can learn new skills that will reduce the weight that anxiety has on our lives. We will become a better version of ourselves”

Next month on the blog, our team of clinicians will be providing insight into different therapeutic approaches for depression.

Until next time, Be Wise!